Shofetim – Perasha Synopsis

Moshe continues his sermon.  He directs the Israelites to appoint judges in every city of Israel and officials for each tribe to govern. These judges and officers are instructed to adjudicate fairly, to remain objective and not be corrupted by bribery.  Justice Justice shall be pursued!

Idolatrous practices must be eradicated. Therefore, setting up a sacred post beside G-d’s altar or erecting a tree or a stone for idolatrous worship, is forbidden and met with capital punishment.

The offerings that we submit to G‑d must be free of blemishes and any congenital disorders.

If a legal dispute proved too perplexing for one to decide, then they were to go to the location previously chosen by G-d, where the rabbinic supreme court convenes and appear before the judge or leader in charge, and present their problem, and carry out any verdict that was pronounced there without deviating. We are exhorted to follow the rulings of the Court and of the Oral Law. Refusal to accept the Supreme Rabbinic Court’s authority is a capital offense.

Moshe continues to instructs the Israelites that if they decide to coronate a king after they enter Israel, they were to be free to do so. However, only an Israelite can become a King. He may not amass an excessive amount of horses, wives or personal wealth. He was to write for himself a copy of the Torah, to remain with him and read all his life, so that he might learn to revere G-d and faithfully observe these laws. He would, not act haughtily toward his people nor deviate from the law, and as a result, he and his descendants would enjoy a long reign.

The kohanim, together with the Levites, were chosen by G‑d to be His holy servants. They do not receive a territorial inheritance (portion) in the Land of Israel, but were to live only on offerings.  They are the beneficiaries of various priestly gifts, in exchange for their service, including the shoulder, cheeks and stomachs of offerings, the first fruits of cereal, wine and oil, as well as tithes from crops and wool.

Moshe continues instructing the Israelites, that a Levite/kohen were to be free to come to the Temple and personally offer their own offerings and to serve with their fellow Levites and they were to receive equal shares of the gifts.

Israelites were forbidden to imitate the abhorrent practices of the nations that they were displacing, namely, divination, fortunetelling, casting spells and similar occult practices, speaking to the dead and certainly not sacrificing one’s children. Instead of probing into the future, we are commanded to put our faith and trust in G‑d.

 

Moshe projected that G-d would raise a prophet from among the Israelites, like him and the people were to heed him, because these prophets transmit G‑d’s messages to His people. G-d’s promise to hold to account anybody who failed to heed the prophet’s words as well as for an individual who falsely claims to speak in G‑d’s name. This was how the people were to determine whether the prophet was truthful: If the prophet spoke in the name of G-d and the prophecy did not come true, then G-d had not spoken, the prophet had uttered it presumptuously, and the people were not to fear him.

Moshe then, reiterates the command to establish cities of refuge for the inadvertent murderer. Moshe commands the Jews to designate six such cities of refuge and, when G‑d expands the borders of the land to add another three cities of refuge.

Moshe warns that the Israelites were not to change their countrymen’s landmarks, set up by previous generations, in the property that they were allotted in the land.

Moshe instructs that a minimum of two witnesses are required to secure a conviction in a case involving capital or corporal punishment. The concept of E’dim Zomemim – false witnesses is explained here. Individuals who testify falsely are liable to receive the sentence that they sought to have imposed upon their innocent victim.

Moshe outlines to procedure for battle. When approaching the battlefield, a kohen addresses the troops, admonishing them not to fear the enemy, for G-d would accompany them. Then the officers were to ask the troops questions and listing the various individuals who are exempt from military duty, such as one who has recently built a new house and did not inaugurated it, or planted a vineyard and did not harvested it, or betroth a new bride and did not yet marry her, or he is a fainthearted and fearful person. All these were to send back to their homes.

Moshe inculcated the people that before waging battle against an enemy, they are commanded to make a peaceful overture. Only if the enemy does not accept the offer then war is waged and the enemy is conquered. However, in the battles against the Canaanite nations, if the enemy does not agree to the peace offer, the Israelites are commanded to completely obliterate the towns and their people, lest they lead the Israelites into doing all the abhorrent things that those nations had done for their gods. And when the Israelites besiege a city for a long time, they could eat the fruit of the city’s trees, but they were not to cut down any trees that could yield fruit.

The last portion of the Perasha discusses the case of a E’gla Arufa – the decapitated heifer and the process through which the community takes responsibility for the unsolved murders. If they found the body of a murder victim lying in the open, and they could not determine the killer, then the elders and judges were to measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. The elders of the nearest town were to take a heifer that had never worked down to an ever-flowing river and break its neck. The priests were to come forward, and all the elders were to wash their hands over the heifer. The elders were to declare that their hands did not shed the blood nor their eyes saw it, and they were to ask G-d to absolve the Israelites, and not let responsibility for the blood of the innocent remain among them.

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